FEEDING WILD ANIMALS
It's always nice to feed our native wildlife and can be a great help to many, especially during winter, but if you are thinking about putting food out for wild birds, hedgehogs or other creatures, make sure you are giving them the correct diet. The guides below can help with this.
Small Birds - Summer & Winter variations
There are many species of wild birds found in Britain, and even though many of these will share similar diets, some can have vast differences, so its best to know which foods will be suitable for these different birds, and also how these diets change throughout the year.
The diagrams below show some variations between summer and winter diets and which birds will enjoy the different foods available.
Below is a detailed list of what to feed mammals in your garden
Commercial, cereal-based feeds are available but expensive. If you use them, make sure you provide water.
Hedgehogs also like peanuts and mixed seeds and dried fruit used as ground-feed for birds. These are cheaper and can be scattered on the lawn.
Tinned dog and cat foods are fine, but fish-based food goes off very quickly.
Do not feed bread and milk – this gives hedgehogs diarrhoea.
Badgers love peanuts.
They also eat dog food, bread, cheese and sweet items, but peanuts are easiest to supply.
Contrary to some reports, badgers and adult hedgehogs often feed side-by-side and generally take no notice of each other.
Red squirrels can be fed using a hopper in which a treddle excludes the heavier greys, or a feeder with an entrance that excludes them. Specialist feeders can be purchased from many garden centres or easily online.
Do not feed peanuts exclusively. Try to offer a mixed seed and nut diet.
Small amounts of fruit and vegetables can also be offered. Do not leave fresh food out for more than 48 hours. If food is left uneaten it should be disposed off.
Pine martens are best attracted to gardens with sweet items, such as jam sandwiches, peanut butter, cake and chocolate. But don’t overdo the junk food!
Build a feeding table against a window to watch mice, voles and shrews.
Cover the top and outer sides of the feeding table in small-gauge wire to protect them from predators.
Make a tunnel or covered walkway leading to the table from a pile of logs or some other natural cover.
Mice and voles like mixed grain.
Shrews also eat grain but prefer fly pupae, which are available from fishing tackle shops.
Deer often enter gardens to feed. You can supplement their food with cereals, carrots or cattle nuts, or hay in hard winters, but by encouraging deer you are asking for your garden to be trashed.
Foxes will eat almost anything from meat scraps to cake. Either cooked or uncooked bones are fine.
Foxes like peanuts and cereals and may try to knock down birdfeeders to get to the contents.
Do not encourage foxes to eat from your hand. Tame foxes can become a problem in towns and cities.
Just as with wild birds, make sure to always provide fresh clean water near any food source.
Putting food out for mammals doesn't mean you will see the animals in your garden as many are nocturnal meaning them only come out at night. If you really want to see what activity is taking place you can set up an infrared camera which is triggered to record when there is movement and will record at night. This is a great way to monitor these creatures without ever disturbing them.
It is important to remember though that purposefully trying to attract mammals to your garden can do more harm than good. Before putting food out, consider what the animals might encounter on their way to your garden: busy roads, predatory pets and neighbours that are less fond of wildlife can all cause problems.
It's also important that the animals don't become dependant on the food you are putting out. Do not put large quantities of food out, and don't offer it every night. When the food is always there, animals will get used to visiting the same area and will often stop hunting as they know the food is easy to get. The problem with this is if you stop feeding, or go away for a few weeks, the animal will suddenly have nothing. Make sure you monitor what food is being eaten and how much. If there is food left behind, offer less the next time you feed. And any food left after a day should be disposed of and any bowls or plates used should be thoroughly cleaned afterwards.
Specialist bird seeds and nuts can be purchased from most pet shops. Many garden centres and general homeware and diy stores will often stock bird feeds. These can help to provide additional nutrients to the birds diets, especially during winter months when food is harder to find. This can also be a great way to see wild birds up close. Hang a bird feeder in your garden and watch from your house as the birds fly in to enjoy the food you've provided.
You can also buy dried mealworms for birds. These are especially great during winter and Robins will love them.
Please do not feed birds any food designed for human consumption. Only offer specific bird foods.
Make sure fresh water is always available. This will provide a place for birds to get a drink and also take a bath if needed. Birds like to bathe as it helps them maintain their feathers. It washes away dirt and makes it easier for them to preen. During cold days, make sure to break up ice on frozen baths. Place a small plastic ball in the water as the movement of the ball will prevent it from freezing.
Foods to avoid:
There are some foods you shouldn't feed to wild birds, even if they may appear to enjoy them.
Cooked oats - these can dry and solidify around beaks.
Loose whole peanuts - If swallowed whole these can cause choking, especially with young chicks being fed. Always put peanuts in specially designed feeders so the bird has to break the nuts before eating them.
Sugary foods - Birds do not require much sugar in their diets and offering such treats can have a nagative effect.
You can visit the RSPB website for more information on feeding native birds.
Hedgehogs and other mammals
Throughout the year depending on your location, you may be lucky enough to see a variety of wildlife in your garden, and not just birds. Hedgehogs, foxes, voles and several other small mammals may come by for a visit, but these animals are easily spooked so it's best to watch them from a distance. The diagram below will give you an idea of the animals you may see, and the foods they enjoy.